Reviews and events

Siba BeerX 2016

Luck is like buses. You wait ages for one that never turns up, and you walk five miles home in the drizzle pondering the futility of existence. I found myself with a unusually virulent strain of luck recently though, and won two tickets to the Society of Independent Brewers’ BeerX festival in Sheffield via a competition from Sheffield beer week. Sweet enough really, i’d wanted to go for a few years but usually had other plans due to the proximity of the festival to my birthday, but to seal the deal I also won a Facebook competition run by SIBA and ended up with £50 worth of beer tokens too. I’m not normally this much of a fortunate git, honest.

BeerX is more than just a festival, it also comprises the SIBA AGM, with talks and panel discussions on relevant topics for its members, as well as an exhibitors section for brewing related business to pitch their goods and services. Of course, any trade focused event should include a gigantic piss up too, and with over 300 beers rotating over the four days, there’s plenty to choose from.


The main section of the festival is held in the defrosted main rink of IceSheffield, with a huge bar running almost the full length of the arena, forested with hand-pump and keg fonts. Abundant seating too, with plenty of large tables set up, or if you fancied you could take your drink and sit behind the glass in the ice hockey arena stands. There was also a couple of smaller island-bars, one staffed and stocked by breweries from Barcelona and Valencia, and others offering snacks and coffee.

Also, outside there was a ‘Brewers Yard’ setup, which was a new addition this year. Actually a large, temperature controlled marquee, there were individual stalls from breweries across the UK, staffed by the brewers themselves in most cases, with a couple of keg fonts each as well as their bottles or cans. Street food trucks were also lined up outside, with seemingly every type of beer-induced craving catered for, i was especially taken with the Banh Mi truck offering Vietnamese-style baguettes, and went back for seconds.

So far, so good – great setup with easy access around the venue, tons of staff and plenty of room for the growing crowd across the day. Particularly pleasing was that rather than the usual beer fest, take a glass and reuse it throughout the day custom, you were given a fresh glass with every drink, saving ending up with a stouty-hoppy dreggy mess and having to give it a swill under the tap in the loos. Mind you, when your event and glasses are all sponsored by a large insurance company, you can probably afford to have such a luxury on offer. BeerX is, for a beer event, uncharacteristically swish, and for some possibly a bit corporate, but not in a brash way – it’s just that everything is done well, and without having to set priorities in order to break even. The exception is the toilets, which while clean, were of the portable kind and with sanitiser rather than soap and hot water, but given that the main toilet facilities were in use by skaters and families in the smaller rink next door, this was understandable.

Getting down to it, we started in the main hall, and took our time choosing what to drink, which proved difficult. I started with a ‘safe’ choice – Salopian’s Automaton IPA, which didn’t let me down, but given the sheer number of beers on offer, there were inevitably some duds. I tried to put my pumpclip/branding prejudices to one side, and had to, as even for a relatively seasoned drinker, there were lots of breweries represented that i hadn’t heard of. Quite often, differentiating between beers at festivals by memory can be difficult, so i did a quick tweet review of each Beer i tried – 19 in total (thirds of course). Most of the beer i enjoyed tended to come from the Brewers Yard area, and the standouts were Hardknott’s Brownian Motion Porter, The Little Beer Corporation‘s 1917 Imperial Pils and One Mile End‘s Blood Orange Wheat double IPA. I’d say that overall I had about a 60% success rate, and while disappointed by some i thought i would like, was equally surprised by other breweries i’d snappily written off.

Having the breweries representing themselves added to a friendly atmosphere, and everyone was more than happy to chat and offer a taster or three. SIBA are obviously keeping an eye on smaller festivals around the UK and its good to see them recognising the connection between drinker and brewer as something that is valued and worth encouraging. A big craft love in isn’t to everyone’s interest though, but if you fancied sitting, getting steadily mashed in front of the rugby on the big screens there was plenty of space to do so.

As I’ve discussed before, there could be seen to be a fork in the road between craft and non-craft events, bars and breweries, and while unintentional in the main, a them and us mentality from drinkers who have a strong preference in either camp. All the better then, that events such as BeerX have a foot in each firkin, as outside of the hardcore beer drinker, most people are oblivious to the debates that we find so enthralling – and to have something that features the full spectrum should ensure that casual beer drinkers get a full view of the panorama, not just one side of the peak.



Reviews and events

Lunch at…Drygate, Glasgow

imageLast week I found myself with a free day in Glasgow, and with a list of recommendations I hoped to cover as much of the city as I could. Despite my best intentions of having a day-long trek from the West End to Merchant City, two things had slightly curbed my enthusiasm. Firstly, it was Leap Day, and Brewdog had inconveniently decided to give all their staff a day off from serving customers, so that was two venues crossed off the list. Damn them, and their being nice to their employees philosophy.

Secondly, I had a 6/10 level hangover and needed a bit of peace, so rather than traipse the busy streets I went for a look around Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art until I could summon some desire for Beer. Eventually, I ended up at Drygate, the Microbrewery/Beer Hall/Restaurant that opened in 2014 as a result of a joint endeavour between Williams Brewery and Tennents Caledonian. Seeming like an odd match at the time, the behemoth Wellpark Brewery casts a long shadow and there was, and is, a fair bit of scepticism about the motivation behind the idea of a larger Brewery ‘muscling in’ on the Craft scene and also why Williams decided to get involved. Regardless of that debate, I’ve generally heard that its a nice place to visit, but that the Beer hasn’t generally made much of an impression. I hadn’t had a chance to try any of their Beers previously, and although I was a bit disappointed to see the upstairs Beer Hall was closed, it was understandable on a Monday lunchtime. The ground floor restaurant looked welcoming though, and the menu looked like it would satisfy my cravings.

Starving, I was immediately drawn to the Ox cheek and cheddar sandwich when I scanned the menu. Presented with a board with the ingredients laid out fastidiously rather than preassembled I had severe mental eye roll, but once I got down to construction I was more than happy. Crumbly buttery cheddar, peppery pulled cheek and chippy chips that didn’t require soss enhancement.

Alongside the food menu, there was a limited draft list of Drygate/Tennents products offered but clearly plenty of other beers on behind the bar. I came for the Drygate beers, so ordered Gladeye IPA and Ax Man Rye IPA, but got Gladeye and the Bearface pils. Maybe I just look like a lager lover, or maybe my bear face planted the thought in the waiter’s mind, either way I wasn’t in the mood to correct him.

Bearface is what I would term as a medium quality craft lager. Superior to your standard pils, and if you’d told me this was Tennents I’d be pleasantly surprised, as it isn’t, I’m slightly underwhelmed. Crisp of course, but without significant bite. In contrast, my half of Gladeye IPA powered through the salty sheen of the cheek n chips admirably. Caramalt and Cascade are the main combo here, with a bit of Vienna Malt that adds to a sweet, sticky finish. Pointed but not piney, it’s a solid enjoyable beer and had I more time I’d have ordered another. As well as the Restaurant and Beer Hall, there is also a small bottleshop with a good range of Scottish and UK bottles, and so I managed to pick up the Ax Man Rye for later tasting, along with a couple of others.

Drygate is a pleasant, swish place to spend a lunchtime and although the look is familiar to anyone who’s visited a modern beer bar, it’s done well and is more welcoming that many of its peers. It even comes complete with the de rigeur display diagrams explaining the brewing process, although I think they could have left out the definition of water. Even beer drinkers are familiar with it.